Apr 27, 2010

[Comics] Black Orchid

Black OrchidThe history of DC Comics is littered with a variety of heroes and villains of varying quality ranging from the amazing and intense like Batman and the odd and campy like Kite Man or Crazy Quilt. This is probably true of all major comic book publishers, but then there's something to be said about just how odd some DC characters turned out to be.

What is more interesting is how many of these characters have been revisited over the years and given new life by new writers. Instead of leaving them trapped in their comical character templates of old, writers find new functions and stories for these characters, practically turning them into completely different people.

Many such reimaginations started with the Vertigo line of comics given how they tried to explore more adult themes, sometimes still within the confines of the established DC Universe. For the most part they remained outside the normal boundaries of continuity and thus were free to play with this power as needed.

Black OrchidImage via Wikipedia

Black Orchid was relaunched in 1988 just prior to the Vertigo imprint being formally created thanks to the skilled pen of Neil Gaiman. This was one of Neil's first titles with Vertigo / DC and definitely another great example of his work.

The 3-part mini-series started with the established Black Orchid, Susan Linden-Thorne. While performing her role as a costumed hero of sorts in the world, she is discovered despite her disguise and is ultimately killed. In another part of the city, another Black Orchid awakens as part of a garden full of these human-plant hybrid creatures as created by Dr. Phil Slyvian. It turns out that Black Orchid as we know her is actually just yet another hybrid creature, created using the genetic material of the real Susan.

Thus this new Black Orchid needs to try and gather the memories of her prior self while ultimately trying to figure out her role in the world. Meanwhile, Susan's ex-husband Carl is finally out of prison and has sworn revenge while Lex Luthor is determined to acquire samples of Black Orchid for his own study and exploitation. The mini-series follows the traumatic adventures of this new Black Orchid as she comes to understand her full function with respect to The Green.

This book is startlingly beautiful for two major reasons: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Gaiman took a very shallow character from an older age and turned her into something amazingly complex and fascinating. Combined with the unique art style of McKean, we ended up with a masterpiece work that was beyond just any commonplace comic book. It really helped distance itself from the rest of the comic book world and it's no wonder why this eventually led to the Vertigo line of comic books.

Given the nature of the story being one of self-discovery, don't expect your typical rock'em-sock'em kind of superhero story. The new Black Orchid is still discovering her abilities and pretty much her identity, so it's not at all fair to expect her to do anything more than that. And yet her adversaries are all around and are determined to find her for one reason or another, and so it's mostly a lot of running, or in her case flying.

But the new mythos crafted for her is a brilliant one. Now beyond just taking on a plant name, she's actually part plant. This makes her more similar to the likes of Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing and her story takes her on an exploration of this side of her existence, and quite well too.

Black Orchid is a great read and a fundamental step towards what we know today as Vertigo. It gets 4 plant-human hybrid constructs out of 5.

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